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Interview with Northwoods Leage President Dick Radatz

Charles Rector's Weblog; Sep. 4, 2013; By Charles Rector
Type: Thoughts

Here is an email interview that I did in 2004 when I wrote the Independent Thinking blog for the now defunct Most Valuable Network. This blog was mostly about independent minor league baseball although it did include other non-baseball establishment subjects as well. Would like to know what you guys think of it.

Interview With Northwoods League President Dick Radatz, Jr.
Dick Radatz Jr., president and co-founder of the Northwoods League , recently did an interview with Independent Thinking about both the NWL and the summer collegiate baseball phenomenon in general.

Independent Thinking: Why did you leave pro baseball despite your success with the Red Sox organization?

Dick Radatz, Jr.: It was a mutual decision. I wasn't growing in the organization and there were no positions available up the ladder. I had been in Winter Haven for 7 years and wasn't learning much at that point.

IT: What is summer collegiate baseball, and why is there a market for this?

DR: Summer Collegiate Baseball is baseball that collegiate players participate in during the summer when they are not in school. I think there is a market for most any kind of baseball that is promoted properly. For example, look at the ever increasing popularity of the Little League World Series.

IT: Are the players paid or is this amateur activity? Also, what is the level of competition you would best equate summer collegiate baseball with?

DR: Our players cannot be paid due to amateur status. The level of competition in our League would be somewhere in between Rookie and Short Season A Professional baseball.

IT: What inspired you to co-found the NWL as a collegiate league instead of as a minor pro league?

DR: Purely economics and timing. In other words, our budgets are about 1/4 to 1/3 that of a professional Class A team. And, let's face it, the reason a number of our markets were open were due to professional budgets outgrowing them. We always thought that the Midwest League should be a 100 game season. The weather is such a factor up here in April and May. The timing of this concept fits the weather pattern in the Upper Midwest.

IT: How popular has summer collegiate baseball been with the fans? Any specific reason?

DR: Very popular. We’ve grown in attendance from a little over 69,000 in 1994 to over 625,000 in 2004. A litany of reasons for this. The evolution of the League and getting better and better venues and the growing expertise of our owners and staffs. Familiarity with the League both regionally and nationally.

IT: Have colleges been cooperative in allowing NWL to recruit their players? Why or why not, any examples?

DR: This area gets better with age. We play more games than any other Summer Collegiate League. So if you are a position player you can get a lot of at bats, with wood. As a pitcher you are positioned in a 5-man rotation as you will be in pro ball. I think our League helps develop players better than any other summer venue in this country.

IT: How would you rate the success of summer collegiate baseball on the business level? On the level of preparing players for the pros?

DR: We are a very successful business. On a scale of 1 to 10 we are a 9.5. We were the first for-profit Summer Collegiate League, so we broke new ground. Since 1994, two other for-profit leagues have been formed in emulation and I think more are coming. We feel our preparation of players for entry into pro ball is superior to any other summer league in the country and have statistical data that back that statement up. In other words, the Northwoods League office undertook a statistical analysis of the last three draft classes, 2001-2003.We used the highly regarded Cape Cod League as a study group, and looked at alumni of both Leagues that had signed pro contracts in those three drafts. We emulate the experience of professional baseball at the lower levels in a manner that gives the amateur player a professional experience before signing that pro contract. Despite having a decided disadvantage in draft status, the Northwoods League alumni taken in the first 21 rounds of the draft had higher batting averages as a group n their first year of pro ball at all entry level classifications, Rookie, Short Season A, Low Class A and High Class A. Further, of the player's in this group, 2001-2003, the Northwoods League alumni who were pitchers, had higher winning percentages and lower ERA's at every level.

IT: How successful has the NWL been in getting players up to the MLB level?

DR: We have 19 alums who have played in the Major Leagues and over 200 currently in the minor leagues of Major League organizations.

IT: Do you see summer collegiate baseball as being in direct competition with minor league baseball? Why or why not?

DR: No. The reason being is that we are typically in different markets. If we were in the same markets we would be direct competitors.

IT: Did summer collegiate baseball leagues pre-date the founding of NWL
in 1994? How did the NWL change summer collegiate baseball or the concept of summer collegiate baseball?

DR: Some summer collegiate leagues are ancient. The Cape Cod League is over 125 years old. The Central Illinois Collegiate League has been around a long time and so has the Great Lakes, Jayhawk and Alaska. We certainly didn't invent the concept of summer collegiate baseball, but, we did invent the concept of making it a business. I think this is truly changing the landscape of summer baseball.

IT: How would you explain the success of summer collegiate teams in such cities as Duluth and Madison that previously had been unable to sustain minor league baseball?

DR: Two things. One is the expertise of the ownership and staff in marketing baseball. Two, is that, again, we are playing at the ideal time for weather in the Upper Midwest.

IT: How does summer collegiate baseball compare to the minor leagues in ability to draw fans?

DR: People have only started putting an emphasis on attracting fans since we came along. I can't speak for the other leagues, but, the Northwoods League draws superior or competitive numbers to many low level pro leagues.

IT: If you had a chance to go back to the start, what would you have done differently in developing the NWL?

DR: When we started the League owned all the teams. Since no one had ever tried this we couldn't convince anyone to buy a franchise. Now we have 12 independent owners with some franchises worth millions. Logistically, it was a nightmare trying to competently promote all the teams as owners. It almost caused our downfall. Luckily, we sold our first franchise in 1995, Waterloo, IA.

IT: How big in total number of teams do you envision the NWL becoming, and how big in terms of exposure?

DR: I didn't know if we would get to 12, but, here we are. Now with the demand and the way our teams are drawing we are getting inquiries for potential franchises almost daily. I think 16 is very realistic and we'll evaluate again when we get there. There's only so many markets in the footprint. As far as exposure, I think we need some cooperation between some other leagues and we could make this nationally exposed in terms of television. We are already national in our own little baseball world.

IT: Do you believe that summer collegiate baseball will one day rival the minor leagues/independent leagues in popularity?

DR: The Northwoods League is doing that now. I don't see all of Summer Collegiate Baseball doing it, mainly because they have been not for profit for so long. Change comes slow in baseball.

IT: Have there been any problems in recruiting players? Why?

DR: Yes, there is a perception that since we play the number of games that we do, that pitchers get abused. This may be our biggest hurdle. We have expanded our roster from 20 to 22 to 25 and just two weeks ago added another (26) to fight this perception. We rarely get pitchers that pitch more than 75 innings any more, but perception is reality and we are dealing with it.

IT: Why was the Summer Collegiate Baseball Association formed?

DR: If you notice, it is made up of the three for-profit Leagues currently in existence. The only other option was the NACSB and that organization just offered nothing to us. They had no influence with the NCAA, did nothing to add exposure to the member Leagues and were just not progressive. But, let's face it, not for profits don't have to be progressive. They had dues of $25 per team per League and many people complained about it. You can't do much with a $3000 a year budget. In addition, it was created by an old Cape Cod League commissioner and is currently run by the Cape President, Judy Scarafile and everyone dances to her beat. The SCBA was created to give our Leagues more exposure, possible inter-league competiton and possibly meld our buying power, as we buy more of most products, balls, bats, etc. than the non-profit Leagues.

IT: Is there any chance for inter-league competition in summer collegiate baseball, or with independent leagues, minor league teams?

DR: I think there is a chance, but there are a lot of obstacles. The NCAA doesn't like it and to quote an NCAA liaison to Summer Collegiate Baseball, We don't want to see Summer Collegiate Baseball get big.

IT: How would you rate the way the news media has covered the NWL? How SHOULD the media cover the NWL?

DR: I think it has been fine. Some markets are always better than others. Sometimes we have to sit back and say, hey, we're only 11 years old. It will all get better if we keep doing the fine job we're doing.

IT: What is your vision of what the baseball landscape will look like a decade from now?

DR: I think what has happened in the last 10 years is amazing. The first pro independent league survived. For profit summer collegiate baseball. Minor League teams in the suburbs of Major League teams and doing well. I see competition, hot and heavy. Teams and leagues will come and go. What I hope for is progress, and I think it's coming. A lot of the old boy network is getting out of Major League Baseball and new, innovative, progressive minds replacing them. I would like to see wooden bats in the collegiate ranks, as the reason for the aluminum bat (money) is no more. I would hope, the powers that be, would recognize the developmental tool that Leagues such as the Northwoods have become and perhaps form relationships with them. Logic does not always rule in baseball. I would hope that at the Major League level that money would not be the determining factor in success. I see more independent leagues and teams that don't have to be, or want to be governed, by Major League baseball arriving, because, as demonstrated, they can be successful.

Thank you to Mr. Radatz for donating his time.

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